History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

06 April 2008

Different views of the same story

Happy Monday! I'm subbing for Doreen who's ill and unable to post (hugs, Doreen, hope you feel better soon!). Trying to think of an historically related blog topic, the first thing that came to mind was the PBS Masterpiece Sense and Sensibility. Part II aired this evening, and I haven't yet seen it, as I was out (at a quite wonderful recital, which included some Rossini songs I have to work into a book, but that's another blog topic :-). I saw Part I last week, however. I watched it with some trepidation, because I adore the Ang Lee/Emma Thompson film of Sense and Sensibility. It's one of my favorite movies. And yet I found myself really enjoying the new adaptation by Andrew Davies.

I find I can often enjoy different adaptations of favorite books. As I've mentioned before, I love the Garson/Olivier Pride and Prejudice and also the Firth/Ehle mini-series, and the Knightley/McFadyen film. Each captures different aspects of the novel, though none is precisely "my" vision of the book.

I blogged recently on my own website about "the reader's role in telling a story." I wrote, "I think that to a certain extent every time we read a book we collaborate with the author. We bring our own likes and dislikes to the story, our own preconceptions, our own historical knowledge. We may hear lines inflected differently from the way the author hears them, imagine different expressions of the character’s faces as they speak, even fill in bits of back story differently in our imaginations. Our sympathies may not lie precisely where the author’s do. The words on the page may be the same, but every book is slightly different depending on who is reading it."

Every screenwriter and director is going to play their own role in telling a story. Even if they are trying to adapt the novel precisely as the author wrote, their version of what the author wrote may not be quite the same as ours. It will be filtered through the prism of their own experiences. They'll have their own sense of what elements in the novel are important. The Ang Lee/Emma Thompson Sense and Sensibility highlighted the pervasive, corrosive importance of money in a brilliant, subtle way that now colors all my reading and viewing of Jane Austen. The new Andrew Davies version frames that the story in a way the emphasizes (at least based on Part I) the risks of giving way to passion, and the sexuality underlying this decorous society.

Do you enjoy watching different adaptations of the same story? Is there an historically-set novel you'd particularly like to see a new film or television version of? Or an historically-set novel that hasn't been filmed that you'd like to see filmed? Any thoughts on who you'd like to see in the cast?

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Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Hi Tracy. I too enjoyed this version of S&S, although I didn't particularly care for the actor who played Willoughby. I do enjoy watching different versions of the same story, because as you said, each version might highlight a different aspect of the story. For me, in this version, I found the parallels between Edward and Willoughby's stories particularly striking in the way each man handled his previous obligation. Edward, although he loves Elinor, knows that he has to stand by his earlier promise to Lucy Steele, whereas Willoughby treats what happened with Brandon's ward as an inconvenience that ruins his life and forces him to marry a woman he doesn't love. He takes no realresponsibility for his actions.

I would love to see some of Georgette Heyer's novels adapted for the screen or Elizabeth Goudge. And definitely a better version of Portrait of a Lady. I hated the Jane Campion/Nicole Kidman version. More Henry James and Edith Wharton please.

5:19 AM  
Blogger Diane Gaston said...

I love all the Austen movie and TV adaptation, except possibly the Mansfield Park movie.

I never expect to see Jane Austen's work transferred perfectly into video, and I don't expect the movie makers to get everything right about the time period. Her stories are just strong enough to make almost any interpretation good!

Elizabeth, I loved your assessment about the differences in the two S&S's!

7:30 AM  
Blogger Belinda Kroll, YA Victorian Romance said...

I. Love. Andrew Davies. He always makes my favorite screen adaptions of Austen.

This most recent version of Sense & Sensibility had me crying and laughing along with Elinor by the end . Oh so great. This version felt much more intimate than the Emma Thompson version, presumably because it is twice the length. But there's also that Davies flair which picks out the best moments of the text. Such a subtle guy. Every movement of each character felt so true to the original, to me. I can't wait until I can get it on DVD, along with Miss Austen Regrets.

/end fangirl rant

8:27 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Elizabeth, I love the parallels between Edward and Willoughby. I actually think they stand out quite a bit in the Emma Thompson/Ang Lee movie, but I'll have to watch and see if they come across even more strongly in the Andrew Davies version when I watch Part II. I'd love to see some Georgette Heyer novels filmed too, particularly "The Grand Sophy" and "An Infamous Army."

Diane, I totally agree about Austen's stories being strong enough to stand up to any adaptation (Shakespeare plays are much the same, in that I can get things of most productions). I actually like the "Mansfield Park" movie. I've liked all the recent television adaptations, but I wish they'd allowed more than an hour and a half for some of them. I was amazed at how much they managed to get in that hour and a half, but I thought they'd have been so much richer if they'd had two hours, let alone three.

Belinda, Andrew Davies is wonderful. I'm really looking forward to watching Part II, and the dvd as well. I still love the film though--I think Emma Thompson's screenplay captures wonderful nuances in the story, and Ang Lee is an amazing director.

8:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never tire of seeing adaptations of Pride & Prejudice and Jane Eyre. I've also noticed that as I experience new events in my own life, my understanding of the classics deepens. When I read the classics in college, my life experience was so limited!

Mary M

10:37 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I have loved Thompson's version of S&S for some time [Willoughby :)], but I liked Davies' version because the male characters were more involved.

I actually preferred the newest version of P&P becomes it came across as more romantic, more angst ridden and more dreamy than the TV version. I liked the focus of Darcy's hand after he helped Elizabeth in the carriage, their almost kiss when he proposed and Darcy walking through the mist to her...WOW! The almost tear jerker was his repeated "Mrs. Darcy" while he kissed her. Boo hoo!

It's good to have variety so you can go back, watch the versions and compare/contrast.

11:20 AM  
Blogger Stephanie J said...

I thought last night's S&S was very good! I admit that I haven't seen Emma Thompson's S&S in quite some time and the first time I watched it I didn't care for it. Heresy, I know!

I'm so glad I got to the Beckinsale Emma. Wow, I loved that adaptation. I'm still the biggest fan of the Davies P&P. The Knightley version was alright but it didn't come close to topping the BBC version.

Oh! Now I'm left thinking of a Heyer movie! We need one...

1:19 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Mary M, "Jane Eyre" is another classic I've enjoyed in various versions (I particularly liked the recent one). And I so agree, returning to classics at different times in my life, I constantly find new things in them.

Christina, I like the variety of having different versions to choose from too. In different moods, I'll be more drawn to one than another. I loved some of the romantic touches in the recent P&P--the close up of his hand was lovely (I've been thinking about how to work a subtle moment like that into a book). I wasn't crazy about the "Mrs. Darcy" ending personally--it was almost *too* sweet and perfect, though I know lots of people love it. I love the soundtrack to that version--it's the music I've been writing to lately.

Stephanie, I'm glad you liked S&S last night--I'm so excited to catch up on it. I like the Kate Beckinsale "Emma" and also the Gwyneth Paltrow version. And I adore the P&P mini-series--for a number of reasons, including the fact that it has the time to do the book in detail.

Which Heyer book would you most like to see filmed and who would you cast in it?

1:38 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

I am usually not too thrilled about adaptations of the classics to modern settings. I saw a version once (stage play) of Romeo and Juliet set in the roaring twenties.

It just didn't work. The actress who played Anne of Green Gables on PBS played Juliet. That didn't work either.

Different actors, different versions of the story but still told in the original setting works. Anything else...not so much.

3:31 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Kathrynn, it's fascinating how people react differently to different types of interpretations. I know productions in modern dress or different eras don't work for a lot of people, but I often love classics (particularly Shakespeare and operas) transported to different eras. I don't think all of them work (but then I don't think every production set in the original era works either :-). I saw a great "Two Gentleman of Verona" at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival a few years ago with the two gentlemen as young Amish men who left home to go out in the wide world. And last year OSF did an "As You Like It" set during the Depression, which gave an added intensity to the people living in the forest. And San Francisco Opera did a film-noir-type production of Handel's "Rodelinda" that I thought was fabulous.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I saw Hamlet as a space odyssey when I was five and I'm still in love with the guy who played the lead. *sigh* He was really tall, long hair, in black leather pants and a lame cape. What can I say, I imprinted early, LOL!

3:55 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

"Hamlet" as a space odyssey sounds fun! I can actually imagine it working quite well. Have you seen the movie "Forbidden Planet"? (It's "The Tempest" in space).

4:01 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

I tend to be a purist when it comes to directors' concept productions of Shakespeare. Perhaps that's because I am a Shakespearean actress and feel that too often it's hard enough to find a decent production of what Shakspeare actually wrote -- with such a large cast of actors who ALL actually understand what they're saying and why they're saying it -- and that the story itself is so brilliantly universal that I don't need some director to impose Mars or a dystopic universe on what the Bard wrote to "show us" how universal Shakespeare is!

That said, when an entirely new story which is NOT Shakespeare's text, is set somewhere and you know that what the creative team has done is play with Shakespeare's original story but is making no effort to make it Shakespeare -- that CAN BE fun. Not always. Sometimes it can be deadly. Or so derivative you want to gag. But when there are clever reinterpretations of a well known plot (CLUELESS does this beautifully for EMMA, speaking of Austen adaptations/variations -- ditto for the first BRIDGET JONES novel), it can be delicious.

5:00 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Amanda, I adore "Clueless," and the Bridget Jones movies are fun (haven't read the books yet). I know mileage varies widely on Shakespeare (and other) productions transplanted to other eras and settings. I so totally agree on the most important thing being the actors understanding what they're saying and why they're saying it. But I've seen more than one "traditional" production where the scansion was off, and I'm not confident that actors knew what they were talking about. And I've seen some "concept" productions that were wonderfully grounded in the text.

11:13 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I just saw the Patrick Stewart version of MacBeth which just proved the point that sometimes transplanting Shakespeare out of the time period doesnt' work. Besides the scenes of Macbeth trying to pull a cork out of a bottle of wine, while debating whether or not to kill Duncan, and Lady Macbeth taking a cake out of the refrigerator during their big scene, there was also the matter of the director having bombs and airplane sounds dropping on Dunsinane during the final scenes which made the whole point of MacDuff dressing up like Birnham Wood ridiculous. Why dress up like a forest when you already have planes and bombs? In this production, I wondered if the director had read the play, and why Shakespeare's shortest play was 3 hours long.

12:51 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Was this on film, Elizabeth, or did you see it live? Even I wouldn't claim that taking Shakespeare out of period always works, and it certainly sounds as if this production had some issues, to say the least :-).

3:32 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Elizabeth, your review of the Patrick Stewart "Macbeth" may have just saved me $100! Reminds me of the awful film version of "Richard III" with Ian McKellen where he's shouting "My kingdom for a horse" when he's surrounded by tanks!

And "two hours' traffic of our stage" has become a 3-hour production???

And then there was the appalling Baz Luhrman film version of R&J where almost no one knew what they were saying, including DiCaprio and Danes, and the balcony scene was filmed underwater!! I guess they figured that was a good way to cut some of the cumbersome poetry that no one understood(not!!!!)

I still would give my kingdom for a production of any Shakespearean play where every single performer, from the principals to the 2rd spear carrier from the left knew what the hell they were doing there and what they were saying.

7:15 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I confess I liked the Ian McKellan "Richard III," but I never saw the Baz Lurhman R&J. From what I heard and saw in the previews, it sounded as though the script was cut way, way down. I can take Shakespeare in just about any setting, but when they text is messed with or the meter's off, I tend to lose my patience. On the other hand, I loved Luhman's "La Bohème," with a film noirish setting. But then he didn't mess with the music :-).

7:27 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Hi Tracy, I saw the Patrick Stewart production at BAM, and it just moved to Broadway. I'm not a total purist when it comes to Shakespeare, but I do hate it when directors, trying to be relevant, impose an interpretation on the play that doesn't hold up. Particularly with the History plays. The wonderful thing about Shakespeare is that you don't have to add a lot of 'stuff' to make it relevant. Shakespeare speaks to the human condition, if you just let the actors speak the words clearly and with meaning, you've done your job as a director. I think scenery and spectacle have ruined a great deal of Shakespearean productions. Have you been to the Old Globe Tracy in England?

I saw the Ian McKellan version both on stage and on film, and I disliked it both times, but I was spoiled by seeing Antony Sher's version for the RSC.

I would prefer to see a modern adaptation of Shakespeare like A Thousand Acres that uses Shakespeare's plays as a jumping off point than a production that is heavy on stuff as opposed to oh I don't know acting.

5:32 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Thanks for the info, Elizabeth! I haven't sadly, been to the Old Glode yet. The Shakespeare I've seen in Britain has mostly been in the West End (speaking of modern dress, I saw a great modern dress "Duchess of Malfi" with Janet McTeer at the National a few years ago). A lot of the "transplanted" Shakespeare I've seen is fairly paired down and not big on spectacle. I so agree about Shakespeare speaking to the human condition--that comes through in pretty much any production, though some work better than others :-).

10:16 AM  

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